SOUTHPORT — Lowe Davis is running for a seat on the Southport Board of Alderman. Davis aims to secure a spot representing Ward 2, with two seats open and six candidates are running.
Author’s note: Port City Daily’s candidate interviews are largely unedited. Edits have only been made to correct spelling or grammatical errors. Candidates were not given word or character limits to answer each question.
What is your campaign platform?
I am 100 percent committed to government transparency. My commitment to this principle will keep Southport citizens fully informed, ensure that they are heard and that
their views are considered in the city’s decision process. My journalism career has been dedicated to promoting the public’s right to know, and I have earned national honors for service to the First Amendment, the foundation of America’s Freedom of Information laws.
I support greater public input into city government decision-making, and I reject decisions made behind closed doors and decisions based on favoritism.
I will work tirelessly for the preservation of Southport’s unique historic character and for conservation of public land and green space.
I recognize the need to keep our community safe, secure and affordable for all of our
residents, with reliable infrastructure and conscientious planning for the future.
What makes you qualified to serve on the Board of Aldermen?
I have decades of experience as a business executive, including years as the CEO of a multi-national corporation. As a newspaper editor and writer, I won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for investigative reporting into local government corruption.
I have old family ties to Southport, but I’ve lived all over the United States and chose to make my home here because of my love for this place and the people who live here.
I am an Episcopal priest, retired but serving regularly in area churches. I was born, raised and educated in North Carolina, and I’m a proud mother and grandmother.
What are the top three issues Southport is facing right now and what’s your
position on these issues?
Issue 1. Growth and Development. This must be well-controlled to prevent unwanted changes to Southport’s character and architectural profile. However, the Southport
Aldermen recently amended the Uniform Development Ordinance to allow 50-foot high buildings on the waterfront, which many citizens opposed. The Aldermen also voted to
eliminate — retroactively — the Planning Board’s role of reviewing and making recommendations to the Aldermen about the sale and/or purchase of city-owned
buildings and land. This has removed an essential advisory tool and must be overturned.
Issue 2. Utility Rates and Infrastructure. The Aldermen have unwisely voted to leave the county wastewater treatment system and build a city-owned and operated sewage
treatment plant at a starting cost of over $24 million. This will inevitably raise rates, since the city will not benefit from the economies of scale and no longer get the county’s wholesale rate. Instead Southport will have to pay the higher retail rate, which means our residents and businesses will not only face the $24 million cost of building the plant but also will pay much more just for treatment of sewage and for plant maintenance. This decision could open the door to financial disaster for our city and compromise our ability to pay for much-needed services and improvements for decades to come.
Issue 3. Parking and Traffic. Our main roads are clogged and the downtown business area lacks sufficient parking spaces, but the Aldermen have done nothing to add spaces
or encourage alternative routes. It’s past time for us to grapple with this issue and to get input from business operators and residents to design a plan that will be effective as Southport grows and our visitor numbers continue to increase.
Do you feel Southport Board of Alderman followed the proper process in approving the sale of the former waste treatment property? Why or why not?
No, they did not.
The Aldermen voted to go forward with the sale process during a meeting at which they refused to allow the public to speak. Then they voted to eliminate the Planning Board
from the review and advisory process, and they made that action retroactive to ensure a smooth path for the sale.
At a later meeting — when the Aldermen finally allowed the public to speak on the issue — they strictly limited each speaker to 3 minutes, even though some speakers were experts in the field and had important information to provide. During the public comments, some Aldermen literally turned their backs on the public by swiveling their chairs to face away from the people speaking.
Ultimately, the Aldermen voted to amended the city’s Unified Development Ordinance to allow the buyer, Southport Marina, to build a 50-foot high structure on the site. That
action has opened the door for other commercial landowners to demand the right to build at that height, which does not fit Southport’s character and architectural profile and has drawn outraged concern from hundreds of citizens who felt unheard by many members of the current board.
Is it appropriate for a City to retroactively amend its Unified Development Ordinance to correct improper Board actions? Why or why not?
No. Southport’s UDO is a carefully and expertly planned set of regulations and designations for how the land within the city is used. It should not be changed or amended willy-nilly or changed to benefit one entity, which is what the Southport Aldermen recently did rather than wait for scheduled updates to the UDO that are being developed by the Planning Board guided by a consultant who is highly trained in this.
The City recently opted to take its own path in pursuing sewer treatment, canceling plans to join a planned county expansion. Do you support this move?
No. I do not support it because I’ve done considerable research into this issue and I’ve found that the numbers do not add up as an overall, long-time benefit for the residents and businesses in Southport.
The city will pay the same or more to build its own plant than it would pay to remain with the county system and participate in the expansion.
In addition, Southport residents will have to pay, all alone, all the cost of running the plant. That is too heavy a burden on our small town of only 3,642 residents.
The site where the city intends to build the plant has serious drawbacks: It is adjacent to a number of residences, and the plant will be only 60 feet from their back yards. That will be a huge negative impact on those homeowners.
The plant site also is very close to the Marine Ocean Terminal Sunny Point blast zone, and a portion of the site is unbuildable and unusable as a spray field for wastewater, according to a civil engineer.
The police audit revealed evidence mishandling, two top police chiefs taking advantage of the job, and a department at odds with itself. It’s clear Chief Coring has taken big steps to increase transparency and community policing. Do you think enough has been done to address the systematic issues that may have contributed to a messy and unprofessional department? Do you think trust has been healed in the community?
I think the people of Southport see that Chief Todd Corning has overhauled the department’s personnel and is restoring discipline. However, the shocking revelations of
corruption, mismanagement and disregard for public safety within the Police Department has caused a great amount of disrespect, distrust and derision, so recovery
In addition, the Southport taxpayers resent having had to pay double for law enforcement during the investigation: The Sheriff’s Department had to be paid for
covering all Southport’s policing needs because the Aldermen hastily, and unwisely, put the entire Police Department on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the
The people of Southport deserve a strong and capable Police Department that has the trust and confidence of its community. I will give our officers my full support as they continue to improve their skills and techniques and their relationship with the people in our community.
What is one action/vote Southport got wrong in 2017-2019?
There were many, but one that could have the worst lasting effect is the Aldermen’s vote to amend the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) to permit 50-foot-high buildings on the waterfront. That one action opens the door to vast changes to Southport’s character and sense of itself. Just look at other coastal communities that have been overwhelmed by tall buildings and endless paved parking lots — we shudder to think of that happening to Southport.
What is one action/vote Southport got right in 2017-2019?
The Aldermen approved a Tree Protection Ordinance that preserves the heritage trees on public land and in the city’s roadside right-of-way, and it gives the city a chance to steer developers away from clear-cutting.
Southport’s magnificent live oak trees and dense tree canopy are part of our city’s identity and charm. The ordinance serves not only to protect the trees but also to maintain and enhance the quality of life for all in Southport.
Anything else you’d like to share with voters?
I was born, raised and educated in North Carolina, and I have old family roots in Southport and Wilmington. My daughter and son-in-law live four blocks from me in
Southport. My son, a recently retired U.S. Army officer, hopes to move here.
In addition to over 40 years in journalism, during part of which I was a nationally syndicated columnist, I have been a high school teacher and an adjunct professor at two universities.
I volunteer with the Jack Russell Terrier rescue organization and currently am fostering two rescue dogs.
I am an Episcopal priest, officially retired but still serving regularly in area churches. I teach “Bible 101” at St. Philip’s Church in Southport.